This Seattleite wants to bridge political divisions over dinner

On April 20, Emily Nelson is hosting a dinner. If all goes according to plan, the ten people there will be very different from each other and share powerful stories about themselves. And before long, there’ll be more dinners like this all over Seattle.

“Mealtime is probably the most powerful cultural asset that we have in America,” Emily said. “And we need to use it now — now more than ever.”

Emily’s dinner will be the first in Seattle to follow a format set out by “Make America Dinner Again,” a nationwide project that’s encouraging people with very different perspectives to come together in very divided times.

The dinner is also part of a broader local movement Emily wants to start to “cultivate hospitality.” She’s calling it “Growing Home,” and she’s found some interesting sponsors: a handcrafted goods store, several churches, a cafe, a seminary, even Seattle’s famous Canlis restaurant.

So why is Emily, a 24-year-old hospitality coordinator and part-time nanny, working mostly solo to try to build these big bridges? She gave several reasons. First, she grew up in a conservative town — Pasco, Washington — and went to a liberal college — Seattle Pacific University. “I got the benefit of seeing both sides,” she said.

Second, she’s a Christian, and her faith has led her to believe there’s something very un-Christ-like about the way people are treating each other. “It’s really sad to see Christians and this country be in a place that is not representative of who He was,” she said.

And third: Emily is white, her fiancé is black, and that’s made her see things differently than a lot of people she knows. “I’ve learned a lot from that,” she said, “and I’ve gained perspective.”

Curious about Emily’s dinner? Or want to host one yourself? Email her directly at [email protected]. She’s gotten a lot of applications to join the dinner already, many of them from white, economically privileged liberals. If you’re not in that vocal Seattle majority — because you’re a person of color, you’re socioeconomically disadvantaged, or you lean conservative in your politics — Emily would especially love to hear from you.

Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Emily about how draining conversations across divides can feel these days. She perked up.

“One of my mottos is, ‘Are you tired enough to try?’” she said. “It has to come from an exhausted place — that’s something that I believe. It really takes a level of surrender and exhaustion for someone to lay down their pride and listen to someone else.”

By Mónica Guzmán
Mónica is the cofounder and editor of The Evergrey. She's been a Seattle journalist for a decade and adores this city.